St Moritz has a glitzy reputation, but it also has some awesome skiing. The main resort area is Corviglia, which has 160km of piste between 1730 and 3057m, mostly cruisy reds with a respectable amount of off-piste, largely around Piz Nair, and the old Olympic downhill run from Corviglia itself. You can access the runs from Celerina, downtown St Moritz and the St Moritz Bad Signalbahn cable car. Across the Engadine valley is Corvatsch, with 130km of piste between 1797 and 3303m and the highest lift station in the Eastern Alps. Corvatsch is a short bus ride from St Moritz with access via the Surlej Corvatschbahn, or further up the valley at Sils, and for my money provides best runs in the valley. There are also a few runs up beyond Pontresina, on Lagalb and Diavolezza, which are definitetly worth a visit and take about 30 minutes or so to get to from St Moritz.
St Moritz is more than a ski and snowboard mecca, however. Cross-country skiing is at least as well catered for, with beautiful circuits all around the valley. Snowshoe walks, winter walks, toboggan runs, skating, curling and a range of other diversions ensure nobody is bored in st Moritz. Sadly there seems to be no public spa in the resort, although there clearly was one and it looks like one is planned, but the Kempinski has a spa open ot the public at a fee. Indeed many of the swanky hotels allow the hoi polloi to enjoy their facilities at rates that are not unduly extravagent.
Despite the stream of private jets flying into Samedan, the swanky hotels, the furs and the Michelin-starred restaurants, St Moritz caters well for those of more modest means. The railway line across the Albula pass is on the UNESCO World Heritage list, and it is indeed spectacular. Once in the Engadine public transport is good, although you suspect run by those of the Italian-speaking community rather than the Schweizerdeutsch – Italian-speakers are indeed much in evidence, and the traditional Romansh tongue is limited to some place names and remote communities. Prices in bars and restaurants are generally-speaking the same as anywhere else in Switzerland, but you clearly have more top-end options – including what some consider the best mountain restaurant in the Alps, La Marmite at the Corviglia top station.
I’ve stayed before in St Moritz in low-end hotels and the prices, service and character have been good. However this Christmas we decided to stay as a family in the St Moritz Youth Hostel. it is located in St Moritz Bad, right on the edge of the town, but it is on the end of the #9 bus line, which also serves Signalbahn, St Moritz railway station and the stop for the Corviglia mountain railway, Schulhaus. As a result getting there from Basel was a doddle: direct train from Basel to Chur with a family carriage that includes an in-train playground; walk across the platform for the connecting train to St Moritz, and then pick up a bus from the same carriage to be dropped at the door of the Youth Hostel. Even with two kids and gear for four people, it really was very painless. Similarly getting to the slopes was also very easy, with Signalbahn being the most convenient stop five minutes away. In addition there were a couple of convivial bars near the stop for apres ski despite St Moritz Bad being a generally quieter community than St Moritz Dorf. It is also easy enough to get off at Signalbahn to switch to bus #1 or #6 for a 10 minute trip to Surlej Corvatschbahn.
The Youth Hostel itself is fabulous. A modern building, spotlessly clean with genuinely friendly staff and a range of sleeping options. We chose a four-person dorm for the four of us, and had a shared WC and shower opposite. The hostel boasts a games room, a children’s play room, a TV room, a boot room, a ski room and a good communal area with a roaring log fire. Drinks are available from reception or in the restaurant at a reasonable price. Both breakfast and dinner were simple but adequate fare, the lack of choice in the main dinner course compensated for by the excellent salad bar.
The kids were booked into the Ski School St Moritz at Salastrains. This purpose-built ski school facility is part of the oldest ski school in the world. It isn’t particularly convenient for non-skiers though. You can walk or ski down from the top of Signalbahn or walk up (or take a horse drawn carriage) from the mountain railway at Chantarella. The school is very good, however, and the kids loved it.
I would recommend St Moritz to anyone who hasn’t been there before, and I think the choices we made in terms of transport, accomodation and ski school were perfect. It really is a most beautiful spot with a unique microclimate, fabulous winter sports activities and spectacular scenery. And if you like people-watching, there is nowhere quite like it.
One last tip, the Swiss Railways Snow’n’Rail scheme, if you have a half-price card, effectively gives you six days of skiing with the rail travel thrown in for free.